The first letter was written by 18 year-old Mary (“Mollie”) F. Van Nest (1845-1927), the 20 year-old daughter of John Van Nest (1814-1903) and Sarah Weiler (1818-1895) of Rowsburg, Ashland County, Ohio. Mollie’s father was an early resident of Rowsburg, marrying and settling there in 1839 and where he served as postmaster and justice of the peace for 35 years.
Mollie’s brother, Joseph P. Van Nest (1841-1905) worked with his father as a harness maker. He married Mary Elizabeth Gardner (1842-1928) in October 1861, and their son John was born in April 1862. “Raised in a family of dyed-in-the-wool Democrats, Joseph Van Nest went to war to preserve the old Constitution. After enlisting with the 120th Ohio in the summer of 1862, he shortly felt betrayed by the Emancipation Proclamation, and evidently his dissatisfaction became known throughout the community. One minister even claimed that Joseph, if given the opportunity, would be willing to shoot the president if he did not retract the edict. As would be expected, Joseph’s father John took offense at this slanderous statement, for he had seen the letter in question and knew that his son had expressed no such sentiment. John personally confronted ‘the Abolition Preacher,’ who ‘in order to dodge the matter claimed that he had misunderstood his wife.’ The offended father, however, did not buy this lame excuse but continued to regard the Republican cleric as a ‘Liar & Mischiefmaker’ unworthy to fill the office of a man of the cloth.” [A Visitation of God: Northern Civilians Interpret the War, by Sean A. Scott] Though Joseph would not shoot the President, he did consider desertion. His wife Mary even pleaded with him to do so: “If I was you I would not stay down there and fight for the negroes anymore, for I would not have my blood spilt for them…” [February 1, 1863] Mary apparently shared this opinion with her in-laws. But discord in the Van Nest family erupted later in the fall of 1863 when Mary announced to her husband and his family that she supported the Republican candidate (John Brough) for Ohio Governor over the Peace Democrat Clement Vallandigham. In November 1864, Joseph transferred to the 114th Ohio Infantry where he was commissioned a lieutenant. Following his discharge in June 1865, VanNest returned to work as a harness maker, and later became an insurance agent.
Molly’s mother — Sarah Weiler — was the daughter of Joseph Weiler (1777-1860) and Rosina Styer (1782-1852) of Lancaster, Pa., later Wayne County, Ohio. Molly’s uncle — James Weiler (1821-1889) — was married to Sarah Talitha Ann France (1830-1902) of Wooster, Wayne County, Ohio. James Weiler served as 2Lt. in Co. H, 152nd Indiana Infantry during the Civil War though he wasn’t commissioned until 14 March 1865 and he mustered out on 30 August 1865.
It was Sarah Talitha Ann (France) Weiler that wrote the second letter to her nephew, which would have been Mollie’s brother, Joseph P. Van Nest (or Vannest).
[Near Monroeville, Allen County, Indiana]
Sabbath morning, June 27th 1863
Remembered Sister and dear Nephew,
I presume you are beginning to think I have forgotten you entirely but feel assured such is not the case. I have attempted several times to write and have had them written but of negligence have delayed sending them off. But hope you will pardon me and I will be more punctual in the future.
I suppose you wonder how I am enjoying myself since my arrival to the Land of Hoosiers — first rate. Better than what I anticipated. I get to Monroeville [Allen County, Indiana] so often, and every week I receive company from there a Friday night. There was a lot of young folks came and stayed till after twelve o’clock most every night. They go out riding apart here. I do love their society so much.
Last Saturday night, the free masons had a grand time in Monroeville. There was thirteen ladies took the degrees. I was among the crowd. We had the nicest table set you ever saw. They had over ten dollars worth of confectionaries and all the cakes and pies imaginable. But the most fun was when we rode the goat. If it had not of been for Mr. Roland, I would of fell clear down stairs. The ladies were all married except myself, but feel assured, I was not deprived of having a partner — one to assist in climbing the ladder, and the goat from throwing me down.
Mary, I do wish you would come out here and spend the summer. I know you would love it so much. The weather has been so pleasant; had but little rain. The farmers have got their hay about made and expect to commence harvesting this week. The strawberries are about all [gone]. We had but a few — it was too dry for them this summer. We have had new potatoes and peas already. We will not have very much fruit this year.
Well, Mary, how do you intend to spend the 4th of July? I thought of going to Fort Wayne. I can go for half price in the cars. They expect to have a grand time there.
Oh, I feel so bad. I expected a letter from Papa Friday but none came. Have you heard from brother lately? I am so anxious to hear how he is. I do hope he is not mortally wounded. The poor soldiers — it must be hard for them this warm weather. They are a going to draft here the first of July.
Well, I must quit writing and get ready for Sabbath School and church. I attend every Sabbath. We have a very good school.
Well, I will try and finish my letter. I have just got my evening work done. We have five cows to milk and four calves to feed. Aunt is sick all the time most which makes a great deal for me to do.
Oh dear, there is two young men stopping again. They’re from Monroeville — Mr. Roland and Swift. They want me to go along to Fort Wayne on the Fourth of July. What will I do! I hate to refuse the offer but think I will. I am afraid he will get mad at me. I wish you could see Mr. Roland. I will try to describe him. He is about 6 feet high and shiny, beautiful black hair and mustache, and dresses fine. There is a young man by the name of Luis Ceary — he is a nephew of Preacher Myers. He is acquainted with Sue Weaver. He got acquainted with her when her and Mrs. Myers was out to Defiance two or three years ago. He seems like a very nice young man. He has been here often since I am here.
Well Mary, how are the young folks prospering in Rows[burg]? I would love to see them all again. I expect they all have beau’s. Oh dear, but I would love to see [my sister] Emma and have a long talk with her. I will write her a letter some of these days and a letter it will be. Give my love to all the girls in town. It is getting late and I will have to bring my scribbling to a close. Excuse my brevity.
Do write soon and I will write to you regular. I would love to hear from my friends — those I love. Give my love to all at home and tell Papa to write me a letter. I will answer Kate as soon as I get one from home. Tell me all the news when you write. Excuse all mistakes for this was written in haste. I received a letter from J. R. Swerty last week. He was well when he wrote. Kiss dear little Johnny and Etty for me. Uncle Weiler’s family joins me in sending their respects.
From your true and loving sister, — Mollie Van Nest
Write soon. Goodbye.
P. S. Excuse my delicate letter paper. I purposed writing a sheet full when I commenced but did not quite do it. Good night. Write soon, write often, all the news.
Mary have you got that box pattern that you hang up at the wall to put newspapers and letters in. I have the sack for it and you you send the rest and oblige your sister Mollie. East Gilbert
¹ Monroeville Lodge, No. 293, was received on dispensation into the Free Mason Society on 31 January 1863, Mollie’s uncle, James Weiler, being one of the three charter officers. It’s curious, however, that Mollie claims “thirteen ladies” were accepted into the society at that time. If true, this would have been highly irregular and downright scandalous. According to Freemasonry regulations, a person who may be admitted, by definition must be limited to “good and true men, free-born, and of mature and discreet age and sound judgement — no bondmen, no women, or immoral or scandalous men” were allowed. Furthermore, any mason attending a lodge that allowed woman were to be immediately suspended or excluded from the craft. My hunch is that Mollie is referring to one of the women-only freemason societies that sprang up sporadically in the U.S. but I could find no record of it in Monroeville.
March 26, 1865
Your kind letter of March 7th came duly to hand on last Friday informing us of your whereabouts. And as your uncle is not here, I thought I would try and answer it the best I could. Your uncle and Mr. Wines of Fort Wayne raised a company [Co. H] for the 152d [Indiana] Regiment. Mr. [Marshall Wickliff] Wines is Captain, Mr. [Marshall D.] Hadsell First Lieutenant, and James is Second Lt. They left Indianapolis on the 18th inst. Their destination is Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, I believe. They have only gone for one year but O dear, what a long year it will be for me for it seems so lonesome without him. But he is for it and I will have to make the best of it.
I have bought property in Monroeville and will move in a week or two as soon as the house is finished. It is just a new house. It will be a good house when done. There is a parlor, a sitting room, three bedrooms, and a kitchen and butery, a wood house and milk house and cistern. There is four lots and a third with the house. I am to pay twelve hundred dollars for the property. I don’t think I could invest that amount of money in anything better for Monroeville is bound to make a place. It is fast improving. There is going to be quite a lot of new buildings built there this summer. There is quite a number of good buildings up already. There is a large steam grist mill, one stove factory, a large water house, one steam sawmill and quite a number of other good buildings. I believe there is to be a depot built there this summer.
I still have the post office yet but will only have it yet this week. My address will then be Monroeville, Allen County, Indiana. I sent our photograph to your wife some time since. Well, as I have nothing interesting to write to you, I must bring my scribbling to a close hoping you will excuse my poor writing and composition for I am a very poor scholar.
We as a family are all well except George. He has been sick yesterday and today. I do not know how it will terminate with him but I hope it will not be anything serious.
Your Uncle John Smith’s are all well at present. David Smith is still at Jefferson City, Missouri. He has got pretty well again. If you think worthwhile to answer this, do so.
No more at this time, but our love to you from your affectionate Aunt, — Sarah T. A. Weiler
P. S. I will send your letter to your Uncle as soon as I know where to direct to.